The holidays are here! Bring out ALL THE FOOD!!! Unless your children have food allergies. Then the holidays are a whole different landscape. Kids, holidays, and food allergies are a whole thing. In our house, three out of four human people have food allergies and autoimmune issues (for which we follow a whole foods diet). Below is a taste of how we go about living like social butterflies in the midst of all of these dietary considerations.
So what will you find here? First, you’ll find two sections broken down by “IF YOU ARE HOSTING” and “IF YOU ARE TRAVELING.” You will also find strategies K-Hubs, Toodle, and Twinkle find helpful. Additionally, you’ll see some of our favorite recipes in these categories. The recipe title below each picture is an active link that will take you to that recipe. All recipes listed are gluten-free, dairy-free, and soy-free. Many qualify as paleo or vegan.
What you won’t find in this blog post, however, is medical advice. Kids, holidays, and food allergies are nothing to mess around with. And I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV. Our family has health issues, however they are not life threatening. Our experiences are specific to us, and no two families are alike. For more information, you may want to visit Kids with Food Allergies in the the community section, Navigating the Holidays with Food Allergies.
However you navigate the holidays, one thing remains the same. You do what is best for your children. You know them better than anyone.
IF YOU ARE HOSTING
Holidays or no holidays, traveling or staying home, K-Hubs and I strive to empower the girls to make the right food choices and to know how to plan ahead, order at restaurants, and adapt if they land somewhere there isn’t any food for them to eat. This is especially true as they grow and go out in the world on their own with friends who don’t have food allergies (or do but have different ones).
As we plan, we make sure our family’s food needs are covered first during the holidays before we do anything else. It reminds me of the rule, “Secure your own mask before assisting others.” Navigating kids, holidays, and food allergies can be done, but, especially in the beginning, not on a whim. We don’t eat many prepackaged foods, but the ones we can safely enjoy, we keep close by. SkinnyPop, Epic bars, prepackaged applesauce, and Stretch Island fruit strips are popular in our house.
If you are hosting and navigating kids, holidays, and food allergies, educate your guests. Are there foods or ingredients they need to leave at home? Tell them so and thank them for helping to keep your family safe and healthy. Some family members will do this more naturally than others. Nonetheless, your house, your rules.
Brainstorm and plan.
Every plan needs a starting point. As a family, the four of us develop a food plan and menu for every event we go to and agree on it together. This prevents meltdowns triggered by surprises. And we remind the girls there will be foods where we’re going that will look downright delicious that our bodies wouldn’t appreciate us eating.
We have also quit saying, “You can’t eat that.” The truth is, the girls could eat that allergen, as in, physically grab that cracker and eat it. They have before. So now we say, “Your body wouldn’t like it if you ate that.” This empowers them to make a choice rather than feel powerless in a tough situation. And then, we they move on to the foods they can safely enjoy, we congratulate them for making a healthy choice. Again, we have the luxury of being able to take this approach because our family’s food allergies are not life threatening, and we are the only ones in our extended families with allergies. I would absolutely approach this differently if our situation were different.
In our family, we brainstorm food ideas and then narrow the list, whenever possible, to foods our extended families can enjoy, too. Grilling is popular. If we are ever worried about cross-contamination, then we keep sheets of foil nearby to place underneath meats that may contain allergens and use two sets of grilling utensils. However, grilling isn’t always possible during cold months, especially in the Midwest.
So additional popular meals include:
Host an appetizer party.
Long before kids, holidays, and food allergies, my family started doing appetizers for Christmas. The Gram wanted to continue hosting but didn’t have the energy to prepare grandiose spreads anymore. After several attempts to prepare the main meal elsewhere and bring it to her house, we finally settled on appetizers. “Oh, that will be so easy and fun,” we said. “We can still partake in two of our favorite hobbies as a family,” we said. That would be food and talking.
AND OMIGOD WITH FOOD.
We cannot be left to make wise choices. Each family unit brought approximately FIVE appetizers each. Aunts, uncles, and cousins brought in boxes and boxes of appetizers, desserts, and junk food because, well, “It didn’t look like that much, so I brought a little more.” We literally ran out of table space. In spite of our early excesses, we still do this, and it’s one of my favorite ways to eat during the holidays. We now cap our appetizers and have to text back and forth who is bringing what. 😂
This is why we can’t have nice things.
But this approach also allows everyone to bring what they like or what they can eat. To prevent cross-contamination, I make enough of whatever appetizers I’m preparing and then store enough in a separate container for my family to enjoy. This way, I don’t have to worry about Cousin Eddie reaching into our foods after eating Aunt Bethany’s Jello mold. I also don’t have to tell Eddie and Bethany NOT to eat what we brought. Extended family members get to enjoy a little bit of everything, if they like, and the process for us is as natural as breathing.
Favorite appetizer recipes our families have enjoyed with us include:
Host a potluck.
Much like the appetizer party, everyone brings a little something, which gives you lots of flexibility to make something your family will enjoy. If you are worried about cross contamination from others’ dishes, use disposable placemats or tablecloths, plates, silverware, and cups, and do a thorough clean-up after everyone has left. Keep your food separate from everyone else’s, if necessary. And if that sounds exhausting, keep Wine-Flavored Fruit Ice Cubes or Spiked Sour Apple Cider nearby!
Enlist the help of an advocate, too, if you have one in your family. My aunt is very good about reminding everyone to serve themselves from the potluck using the utensils provided in each pan, bowl, or dish, rather than dipping directly into the food with their carrot or cracker. It’s always a relief to have another voice on the subject. And if you don’t have an ally, never be afraid to be your own. Gibbs’ Rule #6: Never apologize. It’s a sign of weakness.
Maybe you aren’t an NCIS fan, and apologies ARE worthwhile in the right situations. Even Gibbs has an exception to his rule. But, never be afraid to advocate for your family and for your health. You do you. It took me a while, but I no longer apologize for having a family with food allergies. We aren’t doing allergies AT or TO others. We simply are who we are. I do, however, strive to see our situation from more than one perspective and try to develop a plan than meets our needs without creating undue burden on others.
Below are potluck-style dishes that our family has enjoyed several times:
IF YOU ARE TRAVELING
It’s hard enough to host a gathering with kids, holidays, and food allergies in the mix. But, what should you do when you travel? Many allergen-friendly foods aren’t equally as travel-friendly. And keeping family members in the loop can feel like a full-time job. Below are tips we find helpful when we’re taking the food show on the road.
And in case you are wondering, yes, we have left situations where it wasn’t a good fit for our family. There are places we are less likely to hang out. We do what is right for our family and leave it at that. No explanation. No apologies. We create our own boundaries that keep us safe and healthy, and that’s that.
You may also wonder what we do when the host offers to make a meal we can enjoy. We:
- Tell him or her what our restrictions are.
- Ask how the meal will be prepared.
- Offer to bring our own foods.
- Thank him or her for asking.
Sometimes it just doesn’t work to eat the main course at someone else’s house. When that happens, we make our own plan, bring our own food, and focus on time with family rather than food with family.
Focus on filling foods.
Keeping kids full during a busy holiday is important, especially if your final destination won’t offer many allergen-friendly options. We often rely on smoothies to keep us full. They travel well and store easily in a cooler in our car or in a refrigerator when we arrive.
For day trips we often load up on a hearty meal before we leave and have snacks at the ready when we return. If we are gone for extended periods, we talk ahead of time with our hosts about what we plan to bring and where they’d like us to store our culinary delights. I don’t apologize for our food allergies anymore, but I know our way of living now is different than how others live and that presents challenges for our hosts.
Below are a few of our favorite filling smoothies that keep us full and happy and healthy:
Make it FUN!!!
My 7th grade English teacher refused to let us use the words fun, stuff, and things in our writing (“things” was allowed if we followed it with a description of those things, but I digress). The point is…I get his point. Overused words. But here, the word “fun” is totally relevant. Kids just want to have fun. And why shouldn’t food be fun sometimes, too? Especially if food often comes with restrictions, worry, and label reading? If you have a few favorite “guilty pleasures” that you know and trust, make them and take them! I don’t worry in slightest whether they fit the season. So, yes, I grill at Thanksgiving if the weather is nice and I’m hosting. Yes, I bring chilled smoothies in December, if that gets the girls through the day.
Favorite dessert recipes include:
Hang in there! Chin up! And go forth with your good foods. May your season be merry and bright, Spiriteds!